Mentor–mentee relationships as anchors for pre service teachers’ coping on professional placement

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Published: 
2020

Source: International Journal of Mentoring and Coaching in Education, Vol. 9 No. 1, pp. 71-86

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The purpose of this paper is to identify the negative coping strategies used by pre-service teachers who struggle to cope in a school placement in Melbourne, Australia, highlighting the importance of providing quality mentorship

Research design
A mixed-methods study investigated pre-service teachers’ coping on placement and examined what they found challenging about their professional experiences.
The main question of the study was “What can we learn about the non-coping pre-service teachers, and what can we do to support them on placement?”
An invitation to participate in the study sent to all pre-service teachers studying in the initial teacher education (ITE) programme of a Melbourne-based university during 2018.
In this programme, the university had minimal oversight of the pre-service teachers and their mentor teachers when they were on placement.
The mentor teachers discussed in this paper were mostly full-time teachers, untrained in mentoring, who were put in a position to observe, support and assess pre-service teachers who attended their schools for a period of 20 to 30 days.
The mentors received an information booklet and evaluation forms designed to assess pre-service teachers on areas of professional knowledge, professional practice and professional engagement against specific national standards for teachers at the graduate level.
In the current model, mentor teachers did not receive specific mentoring training.
When concerns were flagged about the progress or performance of a pre-service teacher, an academic liaise person was made available to discuss and mediate through remote means of communication.
In this particular programme, school visits by university academics were uncommon.
Participation in the study was voluntary, anonymous and bore no consequence on students’ academic performance.
The recruitment letter invited any student, who had completed at least one supervised practicum and experienced difficulties coping on placement, to participate.
177 ITE students participated in the study.
Participants were invited to complete anonymously an online questionnaire comprising two parts.
The first was the Coping Scale for Adults Second Edition (CSA-2) developed by Erica Frydenberg and Ramon Lewis (2014).
The CSA-2 is a valid instrument that measures the usage and helpfulness of 20 distinct coping strategies, categorised into three coping styles relating to the situation at hand.
The second part of the online questionnaire included five open-ended questions.
The open-ended questions drew on recommended thought-provoking protocols and cognitive behavioural models designed to identify underlying beliefs, reduce unhelpful thoughts and enhance problem-solving performance (Edelman, 2006; Neenan and Palmer, 2013).
Mixed methods were used for the data analysis.
During the quantitative phase, both descriptive and inferential statistics were acquired to examine the CSA-2 questionnaire responses.
Drawing on naturalist inquiry methods (Lincoln and Guba, 1985), the qualitative analysis of the open-ended responses followed a data-driven inductive approach.
In reading and re-reading the open-ended responses, units of meaning were assigned and recurring themes identified (Johnson and Christensen, 2008).
In the next stage of the analysis, emerging themes were mapped against the coping styles in search of associations.

Findings and Discussion
The findings from this study showed that mentorship is central to pre-service teachers’ coping on placement.
As the results showed, pre-service teachers who tended to use the non-coping strategies (dwell on the negative, self-blame, worry, not cope and tension reduction), on average, did not use problem-solving strategies (solve the problem, seek professional help, social action and social support) and did not seek professional help (i.e. the assistance of their mentors) as often as the problem-solving pre-service teachers.
The qualitative comments provided some insight into this matter, with some pre-service teachers commenting that they would not contact their mentor again if their initial encounter was negative.
When pre-service teachers who tended to use non-productive coping strategies did not perceive the interaction or guidance from their mentor as sufficient, they reported feeling lonely and isolated during their practicum.
Here, loneliness can be understood as a distressing and “detached feeling that a person endures when there is a gaping emptiness in their life due to an unfulfilled social and/or emotional life” (Killeen, 1998, p. 762).
Pre-service teachers who reported feeling lonely were also worried about the mentor–mentee relationship.
These results echo previously made links between individuals who feel lonely in the work place and perceived or real poor leadership (Peng et al., 2017) seen in association with considering a career change.
The findings show that pre-service teachers who used strategies from the non-productive coping style reported miscommunication, power imbalance and feelings of loneliness in their mentor–mentee relationships.
The same group also described thinking about leaving the teaching profession.
Caution is advised when interpreting these results as this study examined participants’ subjective perceptions and did not evaluate directly the mentorship provided.

Conclusion
Professional experience presents pre-service teachers with real challenges relating to their coping and wellbeing.
For mentor teachers, schools and universities, the challenges are just as great.
Of key importance is to end the global scrutiny of teachers and teacher preparation programs seen by “national accrediting agencies, stake holders and federal governments” (Kindall et al., 2017, p. 206). It appears that pointing a blaming finger at teachers only adds additional stress to the education system, stretching teachers’ professional engagement beyond the duties of their teaching roles.
The authors’ recommendations echo previous calls for a policy reform that acknowledges and supports mentoring in schools as a distinct professional activity.
If we expect full-time classroom teachers to mentor pre-service teachers, then providing them with relevant qualifications, allotted time to conduct mentoring and sufficient financial contribution for their efforts is necessary.
It could also increase the feasibility of the mentoring task and develop a sense of professional agency.
This could contribute to a more positive placement experience for pre-service teachers, which in turn may help to improve their coping.
Furthermore, and despite the high demand for mentor teachers, restrictions around eligibility and increased accountability of those trusted with the supervision and assessment of pre-service teachers is essential.
While in the short term such an approach may reduce the number of available placements, it could help to create a higher quality work-integrated learning programme.
Further research is needed to explore coping in relation to professional experience and to examine the effectiveness of supportive interventions.

References
Edelman, S. (2006), Change Your Thinking, ABC Books, Sydney.
Frydenberg, E. and Lewis, R. (2014), Coping Scale for Adults (CSA-2): User Manual, Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) Press
Johnson, B. and Christensen, L. (2008), Educational Research: Quantitative, Qualitative and Mixed Approaches, Sage Publications, Los Angeles.
Killeen, C. (1998), “Loneliness: an epidemic in modern society”, Journal of Advanced Nursing, Vol. 28 No. 4, pp. 762-770.
Kindall, D.H., Crowe, T. and Elsass, A. (2017), “Mentoring pre-service educators in the development of professional disposition”, International Journal of Mentoring and Coaching in Education, Vol. 6 No. 3, pp. 196-209.
Lincoln, Y.S. and Guba, E.G. (1985), Naturalistic Inquiry, Sage Publication, Newbury Park, CA
Neenan, M. and Palmer, S. (Eds) (2013), Cognitive Behavioural Coaching in Practice: An Evidence Based Approach, Routledge, London.
Peng, J., Chen, Y., Xia, Y. and Ran, Y. (2017), “Workplace loneliness, leader-member exchange and creativity: the cross-level moderating role of leader compassion”, Personality and Individual Differences, Vol. 104, January, pp. 510-515 

Updated: Feb. 04, 2021
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